Matters, Joel Freeman): What was the
moment when you first realized you wanted to do what you
are doing today?
Dr. Carson: I remember the
moment that I first knew that I wanted to be a doctor.
It was in church and I was listening to a sermon about a
missionary doctor. The doctor was in some danger but he
was still delivering great care to people in spite of
the situation. It just seemed like this could be my
calling. Doctoring has always been my main focus. The
type of doctor has changed a few times – from a
missionary doctor to a psychiatrist to a neurosurgeon.
When I became a neurosurgeon I prayed something like
this, “Lord, I did have this feeling that You wanted me
to have an outreach to people. You know neurosurgeons
are people who stay in the laboratories and they really
don’t have a lot of interaction with society. You can
help me to have a lot of interaction with people. You
know You can do anything, in spite of me being a
neurosurgeon. So I leave it in Your hands.” (laughter)
And of course He gave me a much bigger outreach than I
ever would have had as a missionary.
How old were you when this happened?
Dr. Carson: I was 8 years
old. And from that point on I began to think in terms of
medicine. I never really considered any other options
and even during the time I was a terrible student, I
still thought I was going to be a doctor. Somehow
magically I was going to be a doctor one day.
Dr. Carson in surgery
Did you go to the library and read books and get
books out about this? Are there any books that impacted
you during those early years?
Dr. Carson: Well, when I
was a particularly bad student my mother turned off the
TV and made us start reading books. One of the early
books that I read was called Up from Slavery.
It was the autobiography of Booker T. Washington.
How he was born a slave and still learned to read. He
read every book in sight and became an advisor to
Presidents. So I started reading a lot of books about
animals and science. I just got very interested in the
whole concept of science and mathematics and
technological things. In high school studies I started
getting involved in science fairs and started working in
the science laboratories. I just basically steered my
life in that direction.
I did have other interests as
well. I was in the school band. In fact, I was pretty
good with the baritone and actually won a scholarship to
Interlaken, the prestigious music camp. I would have
been the first such scholarship winner from my school
ever. The day after the announcement, the band
director came to me and said “Don’t accept it.” (Even
though it would have been a big feather in his cap.) He
went on to say, “You are going to be a great doctor one
day and I don’t want you to dilute your vision for this
scholarship.” So I think all of the reading I did
earlier in my life gave me the mindset I needed for that
decision. I have come to understand that the person who
has the most to do with you and your future is you. We
can’t blame our decisions on some other individual or
point to some environmental thing. It’s you and
what you decide to do.
In what ways do you regenerate yourself, renewing
yourself in the midst of your crazy and hectic schedule?
Dr. Carson: Regeneration
comes from being able to relax. It starts with the drive
home. As you know, we live out in the country. Going
through the pastoral areas and the horses and everything
out there it is very relaxing. I don’t bring work home
with me. I come home and relax: play pool with my wife,
look at the news, see what’s going on. And, of course,
every night before I go to bed I spend time reading my
Are there any unexplainable events in your life and
are you comfortable talking about them?
Dr. Carson: There are many
unexplainable events in my life...when I stop and look
at my career. I have had so many once in a lifetime
experiences that have happened to me, one unique
experience right after another that was very quickly
brought to the public eye. Honestly, I don’t believe
that I’m much greater then any other neurosurgeon. It
just seems to me that the deck got stacked in my favor.
Some incredibly unusual cases and difficult things came
along and I was in the right place at the right time.
Good people and good institutions helped me. I feel that
maybe it was all in order to provide me with a platform
from which to do much greater things than I could ever
accomplish in the operating room and that’s to effect
I spoke at twelve graduations this
year. Seven of them were medical schools. I’m having
the opportunity to affect the lives of many people –
even at the elementary, middle and high school levels –
through our scholarship programs and our Reading Rooms
and the many public lectures that I do. There are just
so many opportunities to have a positive impact on
society. I think I’ve had to have all these things
happen in order to provide the credibility to do all
these other things and more.
Describe yourself in five words or less.
Dr. Carson: Extraordinarily
grateful to God.
What part does gratitude play in your life?
Dr. Carson: To me gratitude
means that every day and every hour instead of
complaining about things, instead of saying, “Poor me,”
and instead of thinking about the problems I may have on
any given day…I’m grateful. Just saying, “So what if I
have a flat tire? At least I have a car. (laughter) So
what if I am hungry! At least I know I have a place
where I can go and eat.” It really doesn’t matter what
the thing is because it could be so much worse. That’s
really the attitude that gratitude gives you. It gives
you the glass-is-half-full mentality. That keeps you in
a positive frame of mind. And when you are in a positive
state of mind you can transmit that to other people
Playing pool with son
You mentioned to me once that you have the greatest
job in the world, which keeps you on an even keel and
gives you perspective.
Dr. Carson: One of the very
nice things about being a doctor (particularly as a
pediatric neurosurgeon) is when I walk out of my office
on the ward I see and talk with people who are
experiencing unimaginable problems. And I look at the
affect it is having on the families and I look at their
outlook and I realize I don’t have any problems. I mean
compared to these people in these tough situations, I
really have no problems at all. One of the things that
really came home to me as an intern at Johns Hopkins in
years past was walking out onto the wards and seeing
many different people – a crown prince of this nation or
king of that country, a president of that organization,
or the CEO of a successful company – dying because of
some malignant disease and recognizing that they would
give up every penny and every title in exchange for a
clean bill of health. When confronted by the pain in
other people’s lives, it really brings home to you how
incredibly blessed you are, especially if you have your
What’s the toughest question you have ever been
asked? How did you respond at the time and if you could
respond again how do you respond now?
Dr. Carson: I get asked a
lot of questions. Perhaps one of the most difficult ones
has been, “How do I view abortion?” It is not
politically correct to be against abortion because
everybody is supposed to have their rights, including a
woman who is supposed to have the right to terminate the
life of a baby. It is a difficult question because
people tend to be so set in their opinions. But here’s
how I respond to the question of abortion – “Is it
alive?” Take an endoscope and put it into the uterus of
a 20 week fetus and see a tiny creature moving about –
reacting to stimuli, having eyes, a mouth, little
fingers, the heart’s beating, and all kinds of things
are going on. Tell me that’s not a living organism. I
just don’t buy it!
There are a lot of people who say, “I
agree with you. I think that it is wrong, and I would
never have an abortion; but I don’t feel that I have the
right to impose my feelings on other people.” That may
be the response of many people, but suppose the
abolitionists had felt that way back in the 18th
and 19th centuries. Suppose they had said,
“I’m not going to own any slaves. I really think that
slavery is wrong, but if you want to own slaves…that’s
fine.” If the abolitionists had had that attitude, where
would we be now? We have to grapple with these great
moral issues, and abortion is an important issue for our
generation. You just can’t stick your head in the sand.
How do you balance your family life with everything
else that is pulling at you?
||Dr. Carson: My family life
is much easier to balance now because the kids are
grown up. (laughter) Before they were grown up I
used to take them with me because I was on the road
so often. I would take my mother, my kids, my wife;
we all traveled as a group and that was my
requirement. If I was going someplace my whole
family traveled with me. So they had frequent flyer
cards for every airline and have been all over the
place and that’s great. Last year I did twelve
commencements, and my wife went with me to every
single one of them. So we still get to have plenty
of quality time together. It just has to be a
priority for you. My family is a priority for me. I
always say where there is a will there is a way. If
you want to be with somebody, you will find a way to
do it. (laughter) Young people can relate to this
when they first fall in love. They’re always trying
to figure out how they can be together. “How can we
arrange our schedules so that we can be with each
other?” In a good family situation that should be a
You grew up in the projects in a single family home
and you were surrounded by all the ingredients for
failure, yet you were able to succeed. Talk about the
“victim mentality.” Did you ever feel like a victim,
and, if so, how did you work your way through that?
Dr. Carson: My mother, who
perhaps had the worst life imaginable, had been one of
twenty four children, getting married at age thirteen,
then finding out her husband was a bigamist, and being
left with two small children to raise on her own. But,
she never felt sorry for herself. She never developed a
victim’s mentality. She always said, “I can deal with
this…I can do something about it.” Therefore she never
let us develop it either. If we ever came up with an
excuse she always had the same response, “Do you have a
brain? And if the answer to that is yes, then you could
have thought your way out of it!” (laughter) It doesn’t
really matter what anybody else says. It doesn’t really
matter what anybody else is doing. When you grow up
with a mother like that, it is pretty hard to become a
victim and I think that is perhaps one on the greatest
things she did for us because if you think you are a
victim then you are.
I have talked to other successful African American
men who have felt that they don’t fit into the “black
stereotype,” whatever that is, and I was just wondering
how you have stayed out of the mainstream as an activist
and what kind of pressure you have felt from other
Dr Carson: I really haven’t
felt any pressure, quite frankly. In 2006, I received
the Spingarn Medal from
the NAACP; the highest award that they give. Recently, I
received the Ford Freedom Award by the African American
History Museum in Detroit and the Ford Motor Company.
And yet I wouldn’t consider myself an activist in the
sense of being a racial activist. Frankly, I’ve gone way
beyond that point. As a neurosurgeon operating on people
from all over the world – when I open that skull and
look at that brain, I can’t tell whether it’s a black
brain, white brain, Asian brain or Hispanic brain. They
are all the same. That’s what makes you the person you
are. Not the racial stuff. That’s superfluous. It means
absolutely nothing. I came to that realization a very
long time ago.
Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t look
at groups of individuals who are having particularly
difficult times and trying to do something about it.
It’s the very reason that we work so hard to put our
Reading Rooms particularly in inner city schools because
I recognize that 70% - 80% of high school drop outs are
functionally illiterate. If we can nip that in the bud
and can get them interested reading in kindergarten,
first grade, second grade, third grade you are going to
have a positive effect
of that down stream. But I would do that whether the
inner city people were black, white, yellow or polka
dot. It wouldn’t matter because that is what we are
supposed to do. That’s what we have been called to do.
Dr. Carson accepting the Presidential Medal of
Freedom, the highest award a US civilian can
What would you say to young people reading this
article about self image, self esteem, appearance, and
Dr. Carson: I
would say that it’s extremely important to find out who
you are. In order to do that you need to spend time
using the greatest gift that you have. And that’s your
brain. That means you talk to intelligent people, open
your eyes, observe, and see what is happening around
you. One of the things I recognized when I was a kid is
the people that we admired were the drug dealers – they
had the fancy cars with those big white side wall tires
and had the chains and everything and they just looked
so cool and they brought candy for us and we loved to
see them coming – but I realized that none of them ever
got old. And that was a huge negative reality.
That’s why I say to young
people, "Look at people. Look at where they are going.
Look at whether they are happy. Look at whether they
are fulfilled. Let those kinds of people be the ones
that you emulate. Look at all the strife that the
so-called glamorous people get into – the unhappy lives.
They might believe themselves to be living the lifestyle
that everybody wants to emulate…but not really. Not if
you stop and think about it. Look at the people who
make a difference in our society. Look at their lives,
and then decide which one you want to be like."
You are competent, with many skills and talents. What
can you probably never do well?
Dr. Carson: Well, that will
require some real thinking. (laughter) It’s not pool!
(more laughter) I think you can do virtually anything
well if you practice at it. But without practicing, I
probably will never be a great golfer. (laughter)
What are you learning from your failures?
Dr. Carson: I learn a lot
of useful wisdom from failures. Failures are great
gifts to us. Thomas Edison said he knew 999 ways the
light bulb didn’t work. And of course we have cleaning
formula 409 because the first 408 experiments didn’t
work. You just have to learn from everything that
happens. It changes my techniques in the operating room.
A lot of the techniques that I’ve developed came on the
of failures. So when something happened that was
untoward, the immediate questions are: “Why did that
happen?” and “Is there something that I could have done
differently?” That goes for every aspect of your life.
If you are married you have to say to yourself early
on, “Why do we have so many conflicts? What is the
After a while you start saying, “When I do this my
spouse gets mad. (laughter) Why don’t I stop doing
that?” The good Lord gave us these brains so we could
take all this stuff in and process it and somehow change
What do you envision yourself doing in retirement?
Dr. Carson: I don’t know if
I will ever retire. I mean I may stop practicing
neurosurgery sometime in the next ten years but I will
still be extraordinarily active on the speaking circuit.
I’ll still be sitting on corporate boards. I’ll still be
working extremely hard on my scholarship programs. I’ll
still be involved with
developing Reading Rooms, trying to change the
educational environment and
attitude in this country. So I don’t think my
activity level will slow down, just the kinds of things
I do will change.
You mentioned reading Booker T. Washington’s book at
a very critical time in your life. What would you say is
the most important book you have ever read and how has
it influenced your perspective on life?
& Dr. Carson
Dr. Carson: That’s an easy
one to answer. That would be the Bible, specifically the
book of Proverbs. That’s what I start each day with and
end each day with. There is so incredibly much wisdom
in there and it was the thing that profoundly changed me
as a teenager – when I began to read in the book of
Proverbs the description of a fool. It sounded
just like me, and I decided that I didn’t want to be a
fool. I’m going to stop living the life of a fool. One
of the things the book of Proverbs talked about was how
fools think they know everything and they don’t listen.
And I remember saying to myself at a young age, “You
know what? I’m going to listen. I’m really going to
listen to my mother. I’m going to listen to what she
says.” Reading the Bible has made a huge difference in
the way I have lived my life, and it continues to impact
me on a daily basis.
What gives you hope for the future when things seem
to be going wrong, let’s say with an operation, the
world at large, or a relationship, or something like
Dr. Carson: The thing that
gives me the most hope is the human brain. Knowing that
we can learn from the present and the past and we can
project that into the future. I combine that with the
fact that I know that God is in control. It says in the
book of Romans that if God be for you who can be against
you? So I really don’t find myself fretting about a lot
of things because I know He is in control. He can
control virtually any situation, and I can’t. But I also
know that God loves me and it is a wonderful feeling to
know that the most powerful individual in the universe
loves you and cares about you every moment of every day.
It gives us great confidence.
You have a passion for giving scholarships to young
people for their college education with a foundation
developed for that purpose. How difficult has it been to
create and maintain such a foundation without getting
Dr. Carson: Nine out of ten
non-profit foundations fail. The ones that succeed are
the ones that have people with real passion who are able
to persevere through all challenges that cause so many
to fail. No foundations have smooth sailing. It is also
very important to make sure that you have some
like-minded people working with you – people who are
just as committed and dedicated to it as you are. Our
foundation would have never survived if we did not have
board members, staff, volunteers, and other people who
believe in it as much as we do.
| At one point, one of our
board members, a lawyer,
was working full time at the foundation (40 plus hours a
week) for nothing, because we didn’t have an executive
director at that time. What a tremendous sacrifice for
her to do that! Not only that, but others also poured a
ton of money into the organization when things were
desperate, looking like the entire organization was
about to fold. They put out challenge grants to develop
all kinds of programs; and now, the foundation is in
very good shape. But on the ground floor you must have
the kind of people who are just as passionate as you are
about helping others. Others who donated huge amounts of
in-kind services, went out and beat the bushes and got
people that they know involved. It’s a lot of hard work.
You can’t do it all by yourself.
Twins to be separated
Are you involved in a local church in your area, and
how important do you think it is for the family?
Dr. Carson: Yes I am
involved in a local church. It’s very important to me
because we discuss all kinds of very relevant issues and
difficult problems that one might face. I get all kind
of ideas for a lot of my speeches (laughter) from these
discussions that we have in church. I wouldn’t miss it.
I mean, it’s just wonderful. Could I survive with out
it? I probably could, but I wouldn’t want to. I always
look forward to the fellowship with like-minded people.
One final question. What is your definition of
Dr. Carson: God has given
everyone at least one talent. Success is taking the
talent(s) that God has given you and using all that to
elevate other people. It has nothing to do with houses,
cars, bank accounts, and jewels. When all is said and
done, all that other peripheral stuff means absolutely
nothing. But what does mean something is the positive
impact you have on the people around you. Has your life
meant anything, or was it just a waste of everybody
else’s time and energy? It is important to move forward
with perspective. If you have
a small head, you’re probably not going to amount
to very much. If you get the big head, you’re
going to have the big fall. But if you view yourself as
an instrument in God’s hands, you’ll accomplish a
lot more than you could ever imagine.
Full interview was conducted
by Dr. Joel Freeman, with help from Nelson Anderson and
Transcription of interview was done by
Part of the introduction
to the interview came from Dr. Carson bio listed on
Carson Scholars Fund, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit
charity that was founded in 1994, by Dr. Benjamin Carson
and his wife, Candy, to recognize and reward students in
grades 4-11 who strive for academic excellence (3.75 GPA
or higher) and demonstrate a strong commitment to their
community. The scholarships are awarded without regard
to race, creed, religion or financial need. Scholarships
are awarded for attendance at four-year colleges and
universities upon the student's graduation from high
school. Since its inception the Carson Scholars Fund has
awarded over 3,400 scholarships. They have scholars in
26 states. Approximately 90 cents of every dollar
contributed, goes directly to support the educational
has your work as a brain surgeon taught you about God
Every time I look into the human brain, I am astounded
by its intricate complexities and think about how
incredibly smart our Creator is. Whether I am gazing
into a baby's head, or up at the stars at night, I sense
God's presence and the mind-boggling complexity of the
universe - so precise one can set one's watch by it. I
see a brilliant and logical God. With every patient and
every surgery, I am struck by the miracle of life and
the miracles possible within it. I have seen children
die, in spite of what we do, and live, despite the odds
Whatever the outcome, I see God as One who wants the best from us, and
asks us always to trust Him. In the end, I am just a
brain surgeon and can not know everything. I do believe
we need to realize God is in control.
When I must leave a surgery and talk with parents, whatever I have to
tell them, I remember wise King Solomon who wrote so
many years ago 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways
acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.'
(Proverbs 3:5) I find myself refreshed and fortified in
knowing that I am not alone.
Q. Who is your
favorite Biblical role model?
Joseph, from the book of Genesis. He consistently made
the most of whatever life tossed him. Instead of
accepting the victim role when his jealous brothers sold
him into slavery, Joseph determined to be the best slave
he could be. Later, when falsely accused and thrown in
prison, he still refused to be a victim, and determined
to be the best prisoner possible. Soon he was an
overseer, and from there on, by always doing his best at
anything life handed him, became prime minister of the
most powerful nation on earth, with the power to
influence many lives in a positive way. He could have
given up. He could have said "poor me." Instead, he
became a victor.
When I was growing up, role models - others who had overcome adversity in
their lives - were easier to find in society. They were
in the literature of the day, and even in media and the
movies. All the stories I read about orphans, and
pioneers, and those down on the luck who made good, were
inspirational for me, and I just determined to be one of
those who overcame my obstacles.
Q. What is your
daily devotional routine?
Every morning I read from the Bible. The book of
Proverbs, written by King Solomon, is my favorite.
(Perhaps this it is not surprising, given that my middle
name is Solomon - Benjamin Solomon Carson.) I set aside
time to thank God for what I have, and to ask Him for
the strength and wisdom to lead my day and life as he
would choose for me. I pray before every surgery, and
A committed Christian, Dr. Carson places the values of
God and family above all other considerations in his
life. He turns for guidance to the word of God, and to
his family and church community for strength and the
moral compass to keep steady in his endeavors and at
Dr. Ben Carson praises God for his accomplishments in life. God, he
says, can take people from any circumstances and "make
them into anything." He cites his life as living proof
of one's ability to overcome obstacles, with
determination and the help of and faith in God.
Carson prays and reads the Bible every day, praying as well before
every surgery. God, he says, seeks to empower human
beings. To know God's will, and benefit from his
guidance, one must enter into a relationship with Him.
In interviews with the media, in his books, and before audiences,
he thanks and praises God for his abilities to help
children and their families. His hand-eye coordination,
essential for a brain surgeon, is but a gift from God,
he says, but one he was fortunate to discover and
develop. He calls upon all individuals to search for
their callings in life, and to seek answers and strength
additional message from Dr. Carson: